In the weeks before traveling to Kenya, I imagined how the trip might play out. In the spirit of being optimistic, I always pictured the implementation going smoothly. Our system would be constructed on time, with few, if any, issues to iron out because of the time and care that went into designing the project this past school year. Fast forward three weeks through the implementation process and my optimism is not unfounded. We have been ahead of schedule the almost the whole way through, with only minor snags materializing along the way, but never anything we could not quickly overcome. I guess I should have taken the hint when nothing was going wrong and everything was going right, that these three weeks were the calm before the storm: having to pick where our next project is going to be. It sounds simple enough. Look at local school, assess their need, take some surveys and measurements and in the end the results should indicate a clear candidate. Right? Well unfortunately the process was much easier said than done, especially since I was blinded by my optimism.
The process began by talking to our supervisor, Professor Mahiri and his son David, both of whom are individuals familiar with the areas we work in and it’s schools. We then received some additional input from the NGO that sponsors us to be here, Nuru International. The input we received helped us compile a list of schools to assess. Of course, my hopes were that the future school we would be working at would stand out during our initial assessments, but this was where my optimism met reality. All the schools were in need. No matter where we went the schools did not have a sufficient supply of water to support their student body, let alone the surrounding community. This part of the trip was the most problematic because there was no clear answer, just a best guess.
So we worked with what we had and made an educated guess. We narrowed down our list based off of the relative needs of the schools after meeting with each school’s head teacher. Specifically, we narrowed our list down to three potential candidates using a combination of the school’s relative need for water, their current preoccupation with other on-site projects, the community’s ability to support the implementation of future projects, and the ability of the community to up-keep the water system. In the end we had a list of three schools: Kiberanga Primary, Kubweye Primary, and Rokere Primary.
The continuing theme of this process, as encountered once more when trying to narrow our list of three to a single school, was that picking a school was hard. Even with only three schools to pick from, we were not able to objectively determine which would be the site of our future project, especially since the need was the same.
In an effort to gather more data, we surveyed the communities surrounding each of these schools, once more assessing need but this time in the eyes of the community. From the data we collected we were able to determine our school, but only after weighing the pros and cons attached to each school.
Rokere showed the most interest in the water project, but it already had three tanks on site, two of which needed simple repairs in order to function. We removed Rokere from our list because it had the most water of the three schools and the ease with which their problems could be fixed were indicative of a community and a school that did not mobilize its members completely to address its problems and therefore of one that would not be the most cooperative when implementing a future system.
We then removed Kiberanga from our list, but only after two days of debates, an additional talk with both head teachers and our contact, David. We decided Kiberanga was not to be the site of our future project because it lacked the security to ensure the project we implemented would be taken care of. There was no fence surrounding the school, and the locks on the current water tank at the school were frequently broken by passersby who wanted water. The school itself had a strong willed leader, the same head teacher who worked with our chapter on its previous project at Muchebe Primary. We decided it would be best to see how the community came together to address its security issues over next year and keep it on our list of places to reassess next year, especially since building a fence is something their school funds might be capable of doing.
In the end we picked Kubweye Primary. It only has one water tank and is in the process of becoming the first all boys primary boarding school in the district. This means the students will need access to water since they will be living on campus. Moreover, the current head teacher has shown his ability to lead and mobilize the community through the construction of several buildings on campus including the boys dormitory building with the funding, labor, and materials provided by the parents in the community.
It was a tough decision, and by far the most challenging part of our trip, but in the end we managed to pick a school for next year’s project. Over the last two days we took measurements for a rainwater catchment system and did an on site assessment for potentially implementing a borehole at Kubweye Primary. Both of which returned promising results for a successful implementation. Now it is up to the community to decide which option will benefit them and the students the most, but I have faith that whatever they choose will provide them with a source of water they did not have before.
– Cameron McKenzie
P.S. A rainbow appeared after we picked our school and took measurements, so I think this project will have good luck.
See photos of Kubweye Primary (and the rainbow) here.